Many moons ago, a budding understanding of science led me to turf the ideas of an omnipotent and omniscient deity. I would likely have had a different, and perhaps more pleasant life, had I turfed science, but there’s an elegance, an immediacy, and a rationale to the sciences that have always suited my temperament, and so here I am, godless.
Age, however, erodes everything, and that has included my belief in my own faithlessness. I’ve had a number of opportunities to discover just how full of faith I am. Particularly, I’ve found it necessary to try to describe that feeling of connectedness and purpose that, from time to time, arises apparently from nowhere, perhaps that place some call “soul.”
A life of scientific study has led me to believe that although I can’t write you a system of equations to describe it, this feeling of connectedness is an emergent property of the interactions of various actors and forces in the highly complex, dynamical system we belong to, and which science seeks to describe. Simultaneously, my activities in industry, academia, and politics have all led me to understand that one cannot have blind faith in science, regardless of what it purports, since it’s produced by people. Not only are people subject to a number of corrosive influences which taint our products, “to err is human,” and those errors appear everywhere.
So a sensible view of the future is nebulous at best. Who knows whether we’ll maintain the course that promises answers and unifying theories, or if we’ll even survive long enough to realize them. After all, the universe is pretty complicated. In fact, science itself has revealed the fundamental uncertainty underlying observation, and if our observations are inherently uncertain, perhaps that’s reflected in our conclusions. There is no finality in conclusions derived from this continuing discourse – there is no “end” to learning. Similarly, there is no end to history or end to evolution. In fact, it’s unlikely there’s even a final destination. And that brings me to a very important idea about humanity, where we came from, where we are, and where we are going.
The human race, like any other, is evolving. We have been and are subject to the various forces of speciation inherent to that process. Our minds and bodies are simply not exempt. One implication is that to deny the differences between peoples is plain wrong. That idea alone has far-reaching, and sometimes uncomfortable, consequences. Another implication is that if we set and achieve goals, we should only expect those achievements to be met by still more goals. That’s the nature of the game. We never “reach the end” of anything, really, and that translates to our position in history. We haven’t reached a final destination, nor should we expect to, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.
What bothers me about many who claim to be “non-believers,” often those simultaneously claiming to “believe in evolution” (a bit of an irony itself) have a habit of exempting humanity. This can make it easy to maintain a number of politically avant-garde, but fundamentally rigid, beliefs about various forms of “equality.” This Cartesian-style logic is not only tragic, but very dangerous. It denies the very real and important plurality of “human kinds,” both in space and in time. By its corollary it also denies the need for the constant and widespread dialogue necessary to satisfy the evolving needs, desires, and goals of those kinds: it kills community. In fact, this type of thinking, which on the surface appears to safeguard a number of “human rights,” is actually the bedrock upon which those rights have historically been removed.
This brings me to another matter of my faith. In place of a rigid political ethos, I believe that somehow good deeds and tolerance beget the same. The hope is that sustained effort and input, even without promise of returns in our lifetime, eventually elicit response in kind. Equally, I believe the opposite is true: put in ill will, greed, egoism, and intolerance (in their many forms), and expect the same in return. I believe we are indeed all “connected,” past, present, and future, even if the math of it is presently beyond our grasp.